So out of the way is miSci (nee Schenectady Museum ) up on that hill above Nott Terrace, it doesn't much matter what it looks like. But with plans to finally come down the hill with an entrance on Nott Terrace, it will matter very much what it looks like. What it should not look like is some weird-looking and -shaped building that tries too hard, modern and different for the sake of being modern and different. Some photos published a couple of week ago in this newspaper didn't inspire confidence.
Those designs came from a class of second-year architecture students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a project conceived and bankrolled by Neil Golub, a benefactor of miSci who has helped make possible its recent transition from a general museum to a regional one focused on science.
After exploring other sites and a major expansion, the museum , mainly for financial reasons, has decided to stay put and do a more modest expansion there. It has begun the transformation with the name change, and a plan to bring in a number of revolving, hands-on exhibits each year from the San Francisco Exploratorium Museum and to house the Challenger Learning Center (a school-oreinted, NASA-certified program that includes a realistic mission in a space simulator).
A collaboration with RPI makes sense because it's a science school. But it also contains a school of architecture, one that has done similiar projects for the Hyde Museum in Glens Falls and the Shaker Museum and Library in Mount Lebanon.
In those cases, the students' work was featured in an exhibit and all the designs were incorporated in a book, and the same is expected here. The students' assignment was to learn about the museum , its history and mission, and design a new entrance that would allow visitors to enter from Nott Terrace, with an emphasis on functionality as well as design.
No decisions have been made yet about how an actual design will be chosen, and any construction is still years off, but the students' work is intended to start a discussion. While Schenectady's downtown architecture is mostly historic, the museum isn't located downtown. That fact, along with the museum 's technology focus and location, could allow for a more modern design, with imaginative use of the space inside as visitors move up the hill.
But the design should fit and make sense, and the public should have plenty of say. Years ago, public participation helped improve the look of the new state office building at Broadway and State Street, and resulted in a handsome design for the new train station. The public should be given the same chance to weigh in and influence the design for miSci.